How Do You Fire an Awful Client?

Services for Real Estate Pros with BRE# 01392374

We’ve all had them.

The nightmare clients. They say they want to buy a home, but six months later you’re still doing showings. They are slow to get their paperwork together. They call you constantly and refuse to respect boundaries. Unrealistic expectations abound.

Or maybe it goes a step further. Maybe they are trying to dishonestly hide problems with their home. Perhaps they are disrespectful, use crass language toward you, or make you feel unsafe.

Regardless, there are times the relationship isn’t working out. How do you tactfully let them go?

Screen Clients Carefully Before Signing an Agreement

One way to avoid awful clients in the first place is to screen them carefully before you work together. Real estate agents can definitely fall into the trap of being too eager and signing with new clients too quickly.

As someone told me early in my real estate career, “Buyers who buy, buy!” Essentially, if they are willing to move forward, they will do it quickly and decisively. So before you sign a buyer’s agreement, require them to be prequalified. Notice how quickly they move forward. Do they make excuses, delay, or drag their feet?

If so, you just found a “buyer” who probably isn’t ready.

With your listings, pay attention to how they talk about their home. Do they seem to have unrealistic expectations of a sale price? Are they listing their home simply to “kick the tires” on the market without any intention to follow through? Do they make the changes you suggest, such as decluttering, minor repairs, and yard work?

If they aren’t honestly going to sell, don’t spend the time.

Build an Exit Into the Contract

Both your buyer’s agency contract and your listing agreement should include escape clauses. This protects both you and the client from being stuck in an arrangement that isn’t working.

The contract can list specific reasons for termination, but there should be an allowance for unlisted causes as well. You’ll want to include a termination timeframe and require written notice, of course.

When the contract includes an out, you’ll never feel like you have to keep going with a bad client.

Let Your Broker Know

Unfortunately some agents try to hide their clients’ bad behavior from their broker and coworkers. While you certainly shouldn’t gossip, there’s nothing wrong with admitting things aren’t going well and you need help.

Sometimes a broker can step in and talk to the client for you, helping resolve a situation. Work with your broker to record what’s gone wrong and what remedies have been tried.

Keep Things Professional

No matter how angry or frustrated you are with a client, it’s important to take the high road. Keep things professional and stay in control of the situation.

If you have documented the problems and made good faith attempts to resolve them, and you’re still having issues, it’s time to move on. Arrange a meeting to let them know you will no longer be able to represent them. Stick to the facts of the matter and avoid personal attacks, no matter how the client responds.

You can have a cancellation of representation agreement already drawn up and ready to be signed. Be sure the cancellation includes another real estate brokerage or attorney who they can contact as an alternative. Give them a copy and keep one for yourself.

Be professional yet firm in the entire encounter. You don’t want to have the situation escalate or to go back on your decision. Be sure the meeting is in your office and that your broker is present.

Move on Professionally

Whew, it’s done! Once you’ve terminated a bad client you’ll feel a great sense of relief. However, it’s important to stay professional even after the termination. Don’t badmouth the client, gossip about them in the office, or share the story on social media.

Instead, get your marketing materials in order and get back on the road to finding profitable, easy-to-work-with clients!


How do you ensure your clients are dreams instead of nightmares? Share in the comments! 


This post originally shared on PrinterBees' Real Estate Marketing Magazine.

Comments (15)

Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good afternoon Nadine. This is very thorough and well thought out. No matter what you do I have repeat clients I wanted to fire and couldn'y.

Feb 06, 2020 01:04 PM
Nadine Larder

It's a challenge for sure. Creating the exit-clause in the contract is vital! 

Feb 10, 2020 07:49 PM
Nina Hollander, Broker
Coldwell Banker Realty - Charlotte, NC
Your Greater Charlotte Realtor

Hi Nadine... I've fired my share of "bad" clients over 26 years. The good news is that over time I've become very good at screening prospective clients and not working with the wrong one in the first place.


Carol Williams this should be in one of your Second Chance Saturday posts.

Feb 06, 2020 01:36 PM
Nadine Larder

Nina, I'm glad you've gotten better at screening! It's certainly true that over time you learn what to watch out for!

Feb 10, 2020 07:50 PM
Kimo Jarrett
Cyber Properties - Huntington Beach, CA
Pro Lifestyle Solutions

Super excellent post. The first question i ask is when do you want to buy, sell or refi? The second question is why and the third is are you aware of what is necessary from you to get it done? Finally, are you able to secure all the necessary documents to begin the process in 72 hours? If not by 72 hours, how long will it take to get them? 

Now, when clients are unreliable, uncooperative, unreasonable and unethical, termination is the only option and I've had my share of terminating clients without any regrets. 

Feb 06, 2020 11:25 PM
Nadine Larder

That sounds awesome! Great job getting the questions in upfront and not being afraid to walk away!

Feb 10, 2020 07:50 PM
Theresa Akin

Got a call from a potential client few years ago. He let me know I was his 5th agent. I asked who represented him before and he quickly replied with some not so nice, very derogatory and vulgar descriptions of male and female agents. I knew these very professional and caring agents personally. So to be referred and I was given a heads up by the last one, I decided not to move forward with him, either. I told him we probably wouldn't be a good fit and I let him know why. Just in his first less than 60 seconds in the conversation was enough. I was sent a client review via email and found out one agent knew him from childhood. She told him it would be a conflict of interest. That was every bit enough information for me. I didn't need any sleepless nights. 

Feb 07, 2020 10:00 AM
Nadine Larder

Wow, good job seeing those red flags. A lot of folks would be so eager for business they would dive in anyway. I'm glad you avoided it!

Feb 10, 2020 07:51 PM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Good morning Nadine Larder - I have been there and it was good to fire the client.  You suggestions are excellent.

Feb 08, 2020 05:40 AM
Nadine Larder

Thanks Grant, that means a lot! 

Feb 10, 2020 07:51 PM
Kat Palmiotti
406-270-3667,, Broker/REALTOR® - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

Yes, sometimes we need to part ways with an existing client - and the way to do that is professionally, as you specify. And what a sense of relief after a difficult client is gone!

Feb 08, 2020 06:00 AM
Nadine Larder

Yes, a huge sense of relief! It's so nice to be done with someone who is a poor fit. It's probably a relief for them too, in many cases.

Feb 10, 2020 07:52 PM
Michael Jacobs
Pasadena, CA
Los Angeles Pasadena 818.516.4393

Hello Nadine - it seems as if firing an awful client might be less difficult than disconnecting from a client who is 'nice"  but not exactly the right match.   

Feb 08, 2020 06:42 AM
Nadine Larder

I don't think so, myself. It might be harder to explain, but a lot of folks are afraid of the reaction from a truly awful client. Making sure you do both as needed is vital, though.

Feb 10, 2020 07:53 PM
Anna "Banana" Kruchten
HomeSmart Real Estate - Phoenix, AZ

Hi Nadine asking the right questions upfront speaks volumes as to if this is a good fit for us. I typically say something - this will turn out 1 of 3 ways. 1 We both want to work as a team 2 You don't think we're the right fit for you. and 3. I don't think it's a good fit for us. Normally it's 1. But there have been a few times when I've walked away and wished them well. And a few as well that knew it wasn't a fit for them.  As I's all good.

Feb 08, 2020 10:06 AM
Nadine Larder

Good for you! It's important to value your business and sanity, and not choose a client simply to have one. 

Feb 10, 2020 07:54 PM
Sheri Sperry - MCNE®
Coldwell Banker Realty - Sedona, AZ
(928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR®

The longer we are doing this job, the easier it is to spot different types of clients. 

Feb 08, 2020 12:27 PM
Nadine Larder

Yes, that is so true! Experience speaks volumes.

Feb 10, 2020 07:54 PM
Mary Hutchison, SRES, ABR
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Kansas City Homes - Kansas City, MO
Experienced Agent in Kansas City Metro area

I've not heard of an escape or out clause on an agreement with a buyer or seller...interesting!  After many years, one can get a 'spidey sense' of who is serious and who isn't really motivated to buy or sell.

Feb 09, 2020 10:26 AM
Nadine Larder

Yes, that spidey sense is so helpful! However, having the out in the contract helps you get out legally and avoid having problems with truly "I'm going to speak to the manager" clients.

Feb 10, 2020 07:55 PM
Joe Pryor
The Virtual Real Estate Team - Oklahoma City, OK
REALTOR® - Oklahoma Investment Properties

In the opast I have been known to respond in anger in situations like this but now I say, This relationshiop is just not working for me.

Feb 09, 2020 11:16 AM
Nadine Larder

That's good! Anger doesn't help you, but you can professionally walk away. Thanks for your comment!

Feb 10, 2020 07:55 PM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

H Nadine:

These are important things to take into consideration. I can't say I have had a client I would describe as awful...thankfully...but there have been a few when it was important to cut the cord since I knew I could not meet the expectations.


Feb 11, 2020 05:56 PM
Nadine Larder

That's good Jeff, I'm glad none have been truly awful. But it's good to recognize that you're not always the right fit. Glad you enjoyed this post! 

Feb 18, 2020 05:29 PM
Will Hamm
Hamm Homes - Aurora, CO
"Where There's a Will, There's a Way!"

Hello Nadine,  I can not recall the last time I fire a client but I can remember the last time I fired someone that their service was not great.


Feb 17, 2020 08:28 AM
Nadine Larder

That certainly happens too!

Feb 18, 2020 05:28 PM
Laura Filip
Laura Filip Broker , Opening doors for All Seasons of Life - Whitesboro, TX
What can we do for you today?

This is always a hard topic to discuss. Although I have let a client know that we are not a good fit. 

Mar 12, 2020 07:41 AM
Nadine Larder

Good! Sometimes it has to be done. 

Mar 12, 2020 12:41 PM